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Greg and Sarina Bower pictured at the helm of Pride II, 15 years apart.

A boat, a storm, and a horse

Greg and Sarina Bower visited Baltimore for July 4th in 2004. A life-long fascination with sailing led to a deck tour on Pride II. Greg left with a pamphlet about guest crew trips that led him back for a sailing adventure in August of 2019. This story has everything. Smooth sailing, a storm, and even a mysterious island where the only way to get around is by foot, bike, or horse.

It was one of the things that my wife and I wanted to do—go experience 4th of July in a big city. We live in a rural area of Pennsylvania. And yes, it’s nice, but there’s not always the great big celebrations that you get in the larger cities. We liked Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. So, for the fourth of July in 2004 we decided to go down and check it out. It was fantastic. I have never seen half a million people in the Inner Harbor to watch fireworks before. There was a lot of energy, and the fireworks were amazingly cool. And the ships had their lights on the rigging to just add to it. It just so happened that Pride II was there offering free deck tours.

Ever since I was a kid I have been fascinated with sailing. I didn’t have to twist my wife’s arm very hard to get on board Pride II and walk around. It was fascinating to see everything on the ship. The crew was very welcoming. I remember being  afraid to touch anything because, you know, I tend to touch something, and it breaks. 

My wife and I had a photo taken at the helm, and I picked up a pamphlet that described the ship and said there were guest crew opportunities. And that sounded so cool. At the time, I was a graduate student working on my master’s degree and it wasn’t something I could do. It ended up as one of those things that you put on your to-do list, and I tucked the pamphlet away.

Fast forward 15 years later, I happened to be cleaning up and I found that pamphlet again. I wondered if Pride II still offered guest crew sails, so I went onto the website. I happened to see that they had a guest crew trip from Kenosha, Wisconsin, to Midland, Ontario. 

It was a multiday trip in August 2019. So, I filled out the application, not knowing anything about how this works. Within a week, the guest crew coordinator, Patrick, got back to me and told me there was space available. So, I started making plans to get out to Kenosha. Pride II was at the end of one of the port festivals on the Great Lakes. I flew out there, took an Uber, and found the ship. 

I was the only guest crew on this trip, so I got to pick which of the three guest cabins to stay in. I made myself at home and settled in for the night, preparing for departure the following morning. It was all just so surreal. I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this. I didn’t know what to expect. But I wanted to experience everything. 

We started out and it was a pretty nice trip. When we got to the Mackinac Island area the captain told us that we were ahead of schedule so were going to stop for a free day on Mackinac Island. We dropped anchor, got the inflatable out and headed ashore. Mackinac Island is car-free. One of the neatest things I saw was a pair of horses pulling a flatbed that had a bunch of Amazon packages on it. It was something to see.

I stopped at Mackinac Historical Society, popped my head in and asked the person I found there, “If you had a few hours here what would you look at?” And he asked, “what do you mean?” I answered, “Well, I got to go before, you know, my boat leaves.” And he immediately reassured me that the ferries run all the time. I said, “No, no, my boat leaves! I had a Pride of Baltimore II hat on, so I pointed to it,” and he said, “You’re the guys that pulled up—that is so cool!”

One of the best things about Pride II is that she brings people to look. People are really interested in her. And from all over the island, the tourists came to check things out. A lot of them were taking photos trying to get the boat in the background.

So, I have a half day and I’m trying to figure out how to do as much as possible. Walking along Market Street I happened to notice a place called Cindy’s Riding Stable, which offered horse rentals. I asked what the rental price was, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend that. I walked around a little bit more, and thought, “I don’t know if I’m ever coming back to Mackinac.” So, I went back and signed up for it.

As we’re out on the tour with the horses, I remember I got a group phone text asking if anybody was ready to go back to the boat. And I texted back, “No, I’m on a horse right now.” At the end of the day when we all got back, they were all curious, and asking me how it was. A lot of them went to the beach or for a hike—and I rented a horse.

That night we had no wind. We were basically just drifting through the lake currents at less than a knot. The captain said the forecast indicated that sometime that evening winds were gonna pick up. I remember on the second hour of my four-hour watch, I turned around and still saw Mackinac Island. It looked like we didn’t go anywhere after two hours. 

My watch was eight to midnight. So, this is around 10 o’clock at night. It’s nice and dark. I think that was the same night I happened to see a flash and I told the watch leader at the time, “Either that was lightning, or I have some sort of medical issue going on.” We both stared and saw another flash. So, the watch leader went down below, checked out the radar, and lo and behold, one of the lake storms that you hear about was on its way.

The captain came up, poked his head out, looked at the radar and told us, “Get the standby watch up.” I got the other watch up, we took in sail, and just as we were finishing cleaning everything up, that first gust of wind hit us. I remember being out on deck in the middle of the night. This was around 11 o’clock. And just as the watch that was up to help us went back down below we got hit by something like 50 knot winds. The whole boat heeled to starboard something like 15 degrees just from the wind.

By this time, thankfully, I’d gotten some of my rain gear on, and then it was just a torrential downpour with gusting winds. We had the helm lashed and we huddled in the back getting soaked. And the captain would poke his head out the back and ask what we were doing. And it’s like, “Oh, it’s just fine out here, sir. Why don’t you just come out and enjoy it with us?” We were soaking wet. There’s not much you can do other than just kind of stay there and shield yourself from the sideways pouring down rain. It was about 30 minutes of that. I was just souped.

So that was a really good introduction, you know, to the first trip ever. To be hit by what was the worst thunderstorm they’d been in that summer was just surreal. I look back and I think maybe that was the wind the captain was waiting for. It just kind of came as a storm front!

We were on Lake Huron, which is known to kick up waves, getting tossed around—and I loved it by the way—just like a rollercoaster. I don’t really get motion sickness, so I was having a ball. I remember the chef came up and said, “Well Greg, I guess you’re gonna be fine ’cause you haven’t lost your cookies yet.” And I’m like, “Nope.” It just gives you an idea of this entire crew. They’re just jovial, though serious when they need to be.

Toward the last day, you know, one of the things I wanted to do was climb the rig. And I got to. It’s almost second nature now, but the first time you climb up they have you sign off on all the waivers, you get your harness on, and instructions on how to hook in as you go up if you want. They explain how only one hand or one foot moves at a time. I’m like 90 feet up in the air and since I’m up there I helped to stow the fore top. I helped to gather the sail and tie it all down. It looked awful. It’s supposed to look all nice and tucked up there, but you could tell it was done by a newbie.

Apparently, my wife really loves me, because she drove nine hours from central Pennsylvania, up through Niagara Falls, through customs, and then on for another few hours to Midland. And she timed it so that I was only there waiting for about an hour or so. Oh, wow.

I got one of the Midland guest passes so that my wife could get through the port security. I brought her on board and took her down below to show her everything. She got down below and immediately grabbed onto one of the support posts, saying, “this boat’s moving”, because my wife gets motion sickness. The chef just looks at her says, “We’re in port.” And I say, “That’s exactly why she didn’t come with me.” But I got to show her around, “Here is where I stayed, and this is where I got soaking wet!” And she said, “Let’s get a picture at the stern of the boat like we did all those years ago.” Then we headed back home.

I guess I never throw anything away, so I was able to find that original photo and my wife put them together. Thankfully we had the date on the photographs so we could remember when it was. And we did the side by side of the same boat, same people, just over 15 years apart.

That trip spawned a relationship with Pride that’s been going on ever since. I’ve volunteered to help winterize and clean the ship. I’ve done the Chestertown sail a handful of times. I’ve done the sail to Bermuda. I’ve done numerous day sails.

There’s something about Pride that I mentioned early on, she just catches your eye. The sleek rigging, the coloration, the design—it looks like she’s built for speed. The openness of the crew, and the willingness to discuss what the ship is, what the ship does. And its association with the war of 1812, which is really cool.

That’s the trip that started everything.

Greg Bower
November 2023